Tuesday, 24 June 2014

THE PIN - Review By Greg Klymkiw

A young girl (Milda Gecaite) confronts an
ethnic-Russian collaborator in her secret
haven from Nazis searching for Jews.
Once again, I am thrilled to report that a terrific new Canadian film, THE PIN, opens theatrically on June 27, 2014. What I'm not thrilled to report is that this terrific new Canadian film is only playing in Toronto at the Canada Square Cinemas. Given its subject matter, this important film with a tremendous built-in audience needs Canada's largest exhibition chain Cineplex Entertainment to open screens for it in the myriad of ideal northern suburban venues in Vaughn, Thornhill, Richmond Hill, Markham, Newmarket and Aurora.

Obviously, one would want a wider audience than an ethnically-specific market, but for that, it would have benefitted from at least one play date in downtown Toronto (at least the Varsity 7). If The Pin does NOT play the Grant Park Cinema in Winnipeg - the perfect venue for it (if some decent grassroots marketing happens and a few dollars are spent on it) - then something's rotten in the state of Canuckville. Luckily, the Grant Park is NOT a Cineplex screen, but part of the Landmark chain. More on this below, and now……THE PIN

Milda Gecaite & Grisha Pasternak are lovers in a dangerous time.

Milda Gecaite and Grisha Pasternak, hiding from
the Nazis in Naomi Jaye's THE PIN.
The Pin (2013) ****
Dir. Naomi Jaye
Starring: Milda Gecaite, Grisha Pasternak, David Fox
Review By Greg Klymkiw

They're scars that last forever, borne of danger and carved into the right-hand palm belonging to a young Jewish girl (Milda Gecaite). In hiding from the Nazis, she obsessively, fearfully digs her fingernails into soft flesh. Her scars plunge deeper. Beyond layers of tissue, glancing over frayed nerve endings, cascading through marrow, these scars are emblazoned upon her eternal memory.

Ultimately, these pain-infused engravings are chiseled onto the subconscious mind, searing her very soul. She will be forever scarred by the haunting memories of looking down at the street from above, her mother looking up, training her maternal eyes at the rooftop where her daughter is safely hidden while family, friends and neighbours are led by Nazis to awaiting boxcars. Destined to face Hitler's Final Solution, the girl's entire family become part of the "cargo" that will be forcibly unloaded at the extermination camps of Nazi Germany.

It's World War II in Lithuania. German soldiers and ethnic-Russian collaborators are crawling all over the countryside surrounding the old barn the young girl hides in. She's eventually joined by a young Jewish boy (Grisha Pasternak). He too will bear a literal scar from the open flesh wound on his arm and like the girl, his own soul will be defaced by malignant memories. Having been buried alive in a shallow grave next to the bodies of his entire family (executed by a Nazi death squad), he wisely stayed still amongst the corpses. Having escaped a fatal bullet, he waited for a safe moment to crawl out of the dirt, dashed into the forest, soon discovering a momentary safe harbour with the girl in her solitary haven. What they both find is the tie that binds forever and for a time in the lives of these two young people, love blossoms and yields joy.

The Pin, Naomi Jaye's haunting, exquisitely rendered and deeply moving love story is her promising feature debut and signals the arrival of a film artist who approaches her craft with great beauty and emotional force. From her own script, Jaye allows us to be party to the soft, delicate and heartfelt courtship that takes place within the confines of this ramshackle, abandoned barn. Punctuating shifts in narrative, tone and the passing of days, Jaye always reminds us of a dazzling natural world that looks over the turmoils created by man, always reminding us that looking to the Heavens is the constant reminder of how small we are and yet, how significant we are to be a part of it and under its ever-present gaze.

The pace of the film is gorgeously languid, creating a bed from which we can almost participate in the hours and days of solitude - a brief respite for the hero and heroine (expertly played by Gecaite and Pasternak) before the madness around them infringes upon their almost-Eden-like existence. However, when the worst comes, Jaye's approach has lulled us into a state of grace not unlike that of her characters and the sheer horror and tragedy that befall our young lovers, though not unexpected (this is, after all, WWII), still hits us like a ton of bricks.

There's something here, almost tonally, that reminded me of the classic Louis Malle drama Au Revoir Les Enfants. Both films are set against the backdrop of innocents hiding from Nazi tyranny during the war, both offer a pleasingly delicate pace to allow for our sheer pleasure in seeing deep emotional bonds being created and then - WHAMMO! - what we expect, when we least expect it, is a shocker and we're then faced with the horrible truth of how war can instil a kind of madness in children (not unlike Spielberg's astonishing adaptation of J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun).

I'm of course more than happy to include The Pin in the same breath as the two aforementioned Malle and Spielberg pictures. Though both of them were created by masters at the peak of the powers, Jaye's film, while not without the sort of occasional flaws one finds in early works (a too obvious framing device, ever-so tiny dashes of didacticism and a few period slippages), is still so mature and harrowing that one feels she'll someday, if allowed the chance, to grow and blossom and move well into the same territory. What's remarkable about the film for me is its resolve to always maintain a challenging mise-en-scène of long takes in gorgeously composed shots - always allowing the frame of the camera to act as a kind of proscenium into the private lives of these two people against an extraordinary backdrop.

This is a brave and uncompromising work - one that reminds us, as we must always be reminded - of how the world of the recent past went so utterly, horribly and insanely wrong (and, with recent events, continues to do so) and that love, faith and a resolve to accept the natural world that rules and presides over us is what we must accept so IT might never happen again.

The Pin begins its Canadian theatrical release in Toronto at the Canada Square Cinema on Friday, June 27, 2014 via Search Engine Films. AND BONUS: It's the first Canadian Film ever made in the Yiddish Language.

You know, I'm so sick and tired of the Cineplex attitude towards Canadian film. They can well afford a more concerted effort to boost their corporate responsibility to our culture - especially since they have a virtual monopoly of first-run screens. They'll argue the need for commercial films, but the recent WolfCop debacle, a COMMERCIAL Canadian film that was handled so poorly in the GTA, that I was flabbergasted! It was allowed one play date downtown (on the wrong screen, no less). This was completely and utterly useless. That film should have been multiplexed all over the burbs where its audience exists. In (grudging) fairness to Cineplex, nobody bothered to spend money on WolfCop and fight tooth and nail to have it released properly in the right venues.

Well, now we have another potentially commercial independent film that has a decent theatrical marketplace. I can't quarrel with the Canada Square as a good venue for The Pin, but it needs a distributor to spend some dough on solid grass-roots marketing and have something resembling a substantial ad-buy to target additional screens. Most distributors of Canadian films learn on a Monday that Cineplex Entertainment has deigned to free up one screen a few days later on a Friday, usually as filler. This is no way to support, market and exhibit films theatrically. Something's got to change.